US Sanctions Two North Koreans for Weapons Program

US Sanctions Two North Koreans for Weapons Program


The US has imposed new sanctions on two North Korean nationals based in China for assisting North Korea’s illegal weapons development programs, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced on Thursday. The move came hours after Pyongyang fired two short-range ballistic missiles, resuming its missile provocation after a brief pause.


US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announces new sanctions on two North Korean nationals at a press conference


The two individuals are Choe Chol-min and his wife Choe Un-jung, who are connected to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), the official name of North Korea. According to the State Department, Choe Chol-min has worked with North Korean officials and Chinese nationals to procure materials used in the production of DPRK missiles. He has also supported Second Academy of Natural Sciences (SANS) representatives to facilitate the importation of over a thousand DPRK workers into China to unlawfully generate income abroad for the DPRK regime. Choe Un-jung is officially assigned to the North Korean embassy in Beijing and is being designated for being a North Korean person who has engaged in commercial activity that generates revenue for the Government of North Korea or the Workers’ Party of Korea.


North Korean missile launch in the sky



Blinken said that the sanctions are part of the US efforts to curtail activities in support of North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) procurement. He added that North Korea’s development of its missile programs directly threatens regional and international security, and the US will continue to take action to address this challenge.


The sanctions are based on the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act of 2016 (NKSPEA), which authorizes the US to impose sanctions on any person who knowingly contributes to North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs, ballistic missile programs, proliferation activities, human rights abuses, censorship, cyberattacks, or trade in luxury goods. The sanctions freeze any assets the designated persons may have under US jurisdiction and prohibit any transactions with them by US persons or within the US.


UN Security Council meeting with representatives of various countries



The sanctions are also consistent with the multilateral UN sanctions regime against North Korea, which includes measures such as asset freezes, travel bans, arms embargoes, sectoral sanctions, and inspection obligations. The UN Security Council has adopted multiple resolutions imposing sanctions on North Korea since 2006 in response to its nuclear tests and missile launches. The most recent resolution, adopted in 2017, imposed the toughest sanctions ever on North Korea, targeting its oil imports, textile exports, overseas workers, and joint ventures.


The new sanctions come amid a stalemate in the negotiations between the US and North Korea over the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The talks have been stalled since the failed summit between former President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Hanoi in 2019. The Biden administration has said that it is open to diplomatic engagement with North Korea and has conducted a policy review to explore new approaches to resolve the issue. However, North Korea has not responded positively to the US overtures and has continued to develop its nuclear and missile capabilities.


The latest missile launch by North Korea was seen as a sign of its frustration with the lack of progress in the negotiations and a way of testing the Biden administration’s response. The US condemned the launch as a violation of UN Security Council resolutions and urged North Korea to refrain from further provocations and return to dialogue. The US also reaffirmed its commitment to the defense of its allies South Korea and Japan, which are within range of North Korea’s missiles.


North Korean woman working at a textile factory with sewing machines



Despite the tensions, some experts believe that there is still room for diplomacy and dialogue between the US and North Korea. They argue that both sides have common interests in avoiding a military conflict and achieving a peaceful resolution of the nuclear issue. They suggest that the US should offer some incentives to North Korea, such as humanitarian aid or partial sanctions relief, in exchange for concrete steps toward denuclearization by Pyongyang. They also recommend that the US should coordinate closely with its allies and partners, especially China, which has significant leverage over North Korea as its main economic lifeline.


The new sanctions on two individuals may not have a significant impact on North Korea’s economy or behavior, but they send a clear message that the US is serious about enforcing its sanctions regime and holding accountable those who assist North Korea’s weapons program. They also demonstrate that the US is willing to use both economic pressure and diplomatic engagement to achieve its goal of denuclearization. The US hopes that North Korea will respond positively to its outreach and return to the negotiating table, where a lasting and comprehensive solution can be found.


FAQs on US Sanctions on North Korea:-


Q: What are the main goals of US sanctions on North Korea?


A: The main goals of US sanctions on North Korea are to:


Deter North Korea from developing and proliferating nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles that threaten regional and global security and stability;


Compel North Korea to engage in credible and meaningful negotiations on denuclearization and peace on the Korean Peninsula;


Hold North Korea accountable for its human rights violations, cyberattacks, money laundering, and other illicit activities;


Support the implementation and enforcement of UN Security Council resolutions on North Korea;


Demonstrate US leadership and solidarity with its allies and partners in addressing the North Korean challenge.


Q: What are the main types of US sanctions on North Korea?


A: The main types of US sanctions on North Korea are:


Primary sanctions: These are restrictions that apply to US persons (citizens, permanent residents, entities, and those within US jurisdiction) and prohibit them from engaging in virtually any trade or transactions with North Korea or its nationals, unless authorized by a license from the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the US Treasury Department. These sanctions also freeze any assets that North Korea or its nationals may have under US jurisdiction.


Secondary sanctions: These are measures that target non-US persons (individuals, entities, and countries) that engage in certain activities that support or facilitate North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs, ballistic missile programs, proliferation activities, human rights abuses, censorship, cyberattacks, or trade in luxury goods. These sanctions can include asset freezes, travel bans, visa denials, export restrictions, or exclusion from the US financial system.


Sectoral sanctions: These are restrictions that target specific sectors or industries of the North Korean economy that are deemed to contribute to its nuclear weapons programs, ballistic missile programs, or other illicit activities. These sanctions can include prohibitions or limitations on trade in coal, iron ore, textiles, seafood, petroleum products, electrical equipment, natural gas, and other items.


Q: How are US sanctions on North Korea enforced?


A: US sanctions on North Korea are enforced by various agencies and departments of the US government, including:


The Treasury Department: OFAC is responsible for administering and enforcing US sanctions on North Korea. It issues regulations, licenses, designations, advisories, guidance, and penalties related to the sanctions. It also works with other countries and international organizations to coordinate sanctions implementation and enforcement.


The State Department: The Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation (ISN) is responsible for leading diplomatic efforts to advance US nonproliferation and counterproliferation objectives with regard to North Korea. It also coordinates with other countries and international organizations to impose multilateral sanctions on North Korea. The Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs (EAP) is responsible for managing US policy toward North Korea and engaging in diplomatic dialogue with Pyongyang and other stakeholders. It also supports humanitarian assistance to the North Korean people.


The Commerce Department: The Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) is responsible for regulating exports of dual-use items (goods that have both civilian and military applications) that could contribute to North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs or ballistic missile programs. It also imposes export restrictions or denials on entities that violate US sanctions on North Korea.


The Justice Department: The National Security Division (NSD) is responsible for investigating and prosecuting cases involving violations of US sanctions on North Korea. It also coordinates with other law enforcement agencies and foreign counterparts to disrupt and dismantle networks that facilitate North Korea’s illicit activities.


Q: What are the impacts of US sanctions on North Korea?


A: The impacts of US sanctions on North Korea are:


Economic impacts: US sanctions have significantly reduced North Korea’s licit trade and income generation from exports of coal, textiles, seafood, laborers, and other items. They have also increased the costs and risks of doing business with North Korea for foreign entities. According to some estimates, US sanctions may have reduced North Korea’s gross domestic product (GDP) by as much as 8 percent in 2018 and 2019. However, US sanctions have not completely isolated North Korea from the global economy, as it still maintains trade and financial ties with China, Russia, and other countries that are not fully compliant with the sanctions. Moreover, US sanctions have not prevented North Korea from developing alternative sources of income from illicit activities, such as cybercrime, smuggling, counterfeiting, and arms sales.


Political impacts: US sanctions have not persuaded North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons programs or ballistic missile programs, nor have they induced North Korea to engage in serious and sustained negotiations on denuclearization and peace. Instead, North Korea has continued to advance its nuclear and missile capabilities and conduct periodic tests and launches to demonstrate its deterrence and bargaining power. North Korea has also rejected US offers of diplomatic engagement and demanded sanctions relief as a precondition for dialogue. Furthermore, US sanctions have not weakened the internal stability or legitimacy of the North Korean regime, which relies on a combination of repression, propaganda, and nationalism to maintain its control over the population.


Humanitarian impacts: US sanctions have had negative humanitarian consequences for the North Korean people, who suffer from chronic food insecurity, malnutrition, poverty, and lack of access to basic services and human rights. US sanctions have restricted the flow of humanitarian aid and assistance to North Korea, as well as the delivery of essential goods and equipment, such as medical supplies, agricultural inputs, and educational materials. US sanctions have also exacerbated the socioeconomic inequalities and vulnerabilities in North Korean society, especially among women, children, elderly, disabled, and marginalized groups.


Q: What are the prospects for easing or lifting US sanctions on North Korea?


A: The prospects for easing or lifting US sanctions on North Korea depend on several factors, including:


The progress and outcome of negotiations on denuclearization and peace: The US has stated that it is willing to provide some sanctions relief to North Korea in exchange for concrete and verifiable steps toward denuclearization by Pyongyang. However, the two sides have different expectations and definitions of what constitutes denuclearization and what constitutes sanctions relief. The US wants North Korea to take comprehensive and irreversible actions to dismantle its nuclear weapons programs and ballistic missile programs in a complete, verifiable, and irreversible manner (CVID). North Korea wants the US to take corresponding measures to end its hostile policy and guarantee its security in a phased and synchronous manner. The US also wants North Korea to address other issues of concern, such as human rights violations, cyberattacks, money laundering, and proliferation activities. North Korea wants the US to lift all sanctions that affect its economic development and people’s livelihoods.


The support and cooperation of other countries and international organizations: The US cannot ease or lift sanctions on North Korea unilaterally, as it needs the support and cooperation of other countries and international organizations that are involved in the sanctions regime. In particular, the US needs the consent of the UN Security Council to modify or terminate the multilateral UN sanctions on North Korea. The UN Security Council consists of fifteen members, including five permanent members (China, France, Russia, UK, US) that have veto power over any resolutions. China and Russia are allies of North Korea and have often called for easing or lifting sanctions on Pyongyang in return for its partial or symbolic concessions. The US also needs the coordination and collaboration of its allies and partners in the region, especially South Korea and Japan, which have their own bilateral sanctions on North Korea and their own interests and perspectives on the issue.


The approval and oversight of Congress: The US cannot ease or lift sanctions on North Korea without the approval and oversight of Congress, which has a significant role in shaping and implementing US policy toward North Korea. Congress has passed several laws that authorize or mandate US sanctions on North Korea, such as the NKSPEA, which requires the president to impose sanctions on any person who knowingly contributes to North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs or ballistic missile programs. Congress also has the power to review any executive actions or agreements related to sanctions relief or removal for North Korea. Congress can approve or disapprove any such actions or agreements by passing legislation or resolutions. Congress can also conduct hearings or investigations to monitor or evaluate any such actions or agreements.


https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/757


https://www.piie.com/system/files/documents/wp19-2.pdf

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